A Documentary About Children Being Bullied -- That Your Children Can't Watch

Family Matters on 03.21.12
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In the movies, a story is told that more often than not leads to a happy ending. The unlikely guy gets the beautiful girl; a geeky teen turns into a superhero and saves the world; a mother protects her family from criminals all while maintaining a perfectly coiffed hairstyle and mascara that doesn't run; and a boy turns the tables on his bullies and stops them in his tracks.

In reality, however, these stories rarely end on such a positive note, especially for many real-life bullied children, as countless news stories have proven. Award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch wanted to bring the horrifically real side of bullying -- and its devastating consequences -- to the masses.

Bullied as a child, Hirsch had been thinking of a documentary for some time, but it was the suicides of two young boys (both only 11) that pushed him over the edge. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover from Massachusetts and Jaheem Herrera from Georgia (and a student at the same elementary school I myself attended) were bullied consistently, and both hanged themselves to make it stop.

Hirsch began his research right away. Filming in four states over one school year (2009-2010), the end result was a documentary called Bully starring five kids, some of whom are in the throes of torture and others who chose suicide over acceptance of what was happening to them. The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011, and the rights were purchased by the Weinstein Co., just a few short days later.

Designed to not only tell of what's happening, but also to provide ways to stop and/or prevent bullying, the film is geared toward children, parents and educators alike. Unfortunately, however, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has given the film an R-rating, which means that no children under the age of 17 can see it without a parent or guardian present.

The reason the MPAA gives for the harsh rating is for "some language." While I haven't yet seen the movie myself, I found that "language" refers to the F-word, which is used on a few occasions. In its defense, the MPAA says it has strict guidelines to follow, and if it made an exception here, they'd have to in other instances.

But that's not stopping people who view this as a serious or important message from trying to get the MPAA to reverse its decision. Katy Butler, a 17-year-old victim of bullying started an online petition at Change.org at the end of February, and the movement has gone viral fast, gaining some celebrity pull along the way. Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ellen Degeneres, and Drew Brees are just a few of the supporters for the lower rating, along with almost 440,000 other folks. 

Our neighbors in Canada disagreed wholeheartedly with the MPAA's mature audience rating. The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star are both reporting that several provinces have given the documentary a lowly PG-rating, meaning it's open to all children. For his part, Hirsch applauded the rating and is excited his film will be open to all.

The film is set to release in the United States on March 30, and as of now, the R-rating stands. If it holds up, then I foresee two possibilities. One, it could encourage parents and children to sit down together to see the film and, hopefully, open up some lines of communication about this very difficult topic. It could also very easily swing the other way. Because the subject matter is so difficult, parents and children may not watch the film at all, letting a very important message get lost. And that could be a real detriment to children who are bullying or being bullied.

For more information on Bully, you can visit the official site here (the Production Notes are quite an interesting and worthy read). And if you'd like to get involved with the petition going around, please visit Change.org to be heard.

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